Days passed into weeks. Kivuli'Nyamaa wandered aimlessly through the savanna not having a clue what to do, and having not seen another leopard ever since his mother left him that night. The mere thought of the heart-rending experience brought tears to his eyes as it always did, but the little shadowcat cub forced them back behind his mental wall. He had cried the whole night and well into the morning that horrible night two weeks ago and had come out of it with the frown he wore perpetually now, and a strong resolve to survive this world and return to his mother some day. Return and show her what a fine, strong panther her little shadow had grown into. And strong panthers didn't cry over the past...
Kivuli hardly looked the strong healthy panther as it was. His ebony fur was as neat as he could keep it with his small tongue, but it was riddled with grass and burrs. He had begun to lose his cub fat and his ribs showed their impression through his flanks. He walked with a stumbling step and fell frequently, though he always got back up without complaint. Despite the few mice and such that he had miraculously managed to catch for himself, his stomach constantly burned like fire with hunger pains. There were times when Kivuli could only curl up in a tight ball with his arms wrapped around his belly, certain that his stomach would eat through his belly's drum-tight skin at any moment. But the pains always simmered down though they never disappeared, and he could get up slowly and continue his meaningless walk.
The savanna held many dangers for homeless cubs, not the least of which were hyenas, lions, and buzzards. But Kivuli learned quickly to hide from these, and other dangers. Often were the times he would have to take cover in a thick patch of grass to remain hidden from a passing pack of hyenas or a meandering elephant. He took to traveling at night, finding that the cover of darkness allowed his midnight black fur to blend in with his surroundings more effectively.
Many days later, Kivuli once more found himself dashing into the grasses to hide from a passing hyena. Trembling as he always did until the carnivore passed, he waited for the plodding sound of hyena paws to die down before cautiously peeking his head out...and coming face to face with an adult female shadowcat. Kivuli froze with fear, not knowing what to do and expecting his death at any moment.
The shadowcat, who's name was Ziara, stared at this young cub in disbelief. He looked so emaciated and disheveled, so near death. She had been given specific orders by her king to follow this hyena and find out whether it's pack was planning an attack on her pride, but she knew she could follow the reeking hyena's scent all the way across Africa if needs be. And this little one was in dire straits. Yes, the hyena could wait.
A tense moment passed, then Ziara smiled to the cub and laid down so that she would not appear so large and threatening to him. "Hello there, little guy. You hungry?" she asked in a melodic alto. The sound of the female's voice inexplicably soothed Kivuli's fears and he found himself replying before he could think with a cracked voice that hadn't seen use in nearly two months. "Yeah...my stomach hurrrts..." he said miserably. The adult shadowcat nodded slowly and glanced at the cub's sunken and drum-tight belly with an inward wince. Most cubs would have died by now but she could sense a strength in this one. "I'll bet it does.", she "mrr"ed to him, "Tell you what, I know a little hole not too far from here. It's got a nice supply of mice and there's a little pool real close by. Want to stay there"? Kivuli's stomach burned again at the mere mention of food and he nodded to this female whom he felt strangely drawn to. Ziara smiled to him and picked him up in her maw gently. Turning around, she began to pad off into the grasses with her load.
They traveled a mile, maybe two, before Ziara finally set Kivuli down in the grasses in front of a well-concealed den dug from the earth. This was a spot that Ziara herself had dug for occasions when she had to be away from the pride for days at a time and the spot was indeed a beauty. A virtual horde of field mice jumped and ran in the grasses all around them and the sweet bubbling of a small stream-fed pool came from only a few yards away. Kivuli's stomach chose that moment, with the abundance of food so close, to start burning in one of it's moments of extreme pain. He gave a soft cry and curled into a tight ball at the den's entrance. Ziara frowned, guessing what was hurting the cub by the way he tightly clutched his belly. "Wait here a moment, little guy. I'll get you some food." she said and gave him a gentle nudge before turning her attention to the mice skittering about in the grasses.
When Kivuli's stomach finally let up it's crippling pain enough for him to uncurl and look around for the panthress, he didn't find her anywhere. Sighing a heavy sigh and thinking she had been a mirage, he looked at his paws. . .and saw a pile of freshly killed mice waiting for him. He looked around again swiftly and just caught the trailing end of a slender black tail vanishing into the grasses. Kivuli stared at that spot for a long time, wondering who the panthress was. But the scent of the mice was too powerful an urge to resist and he turned back to the pile and feasted as he had never feasted in his life. And after the fifth mouse, his stomach finally ceased it's endless pains.
Laying on his back in the den a pile of mice and a short exploration trip later, Kivuli burped softly and set a paw on his belly, now swollen and stretched even tighter over the mice that filled it. The den was nice enough, he decided, and the nearby water was certainly drinkable. He could stay here indefinitely, but what then? What was he to do? Kivuli still felt miserable despite the unexpected help from the vanished panthress and the stomach full of mice. He could live, but that seemed so empty to him. He gave a sigh and rolled to his side, his burgeoning belly preventing him from rolling further. And with no hunger pains for the first night since his mother had left him, he slept a dreamless sleep.
Another month passed, then another. Kivuli was growing in size and had just entered his adolescence, and his life seemed more miserable than ever. He was still staying at the small den, but Ziara had never returned and the mice were catching on to him. While he had never found catching the wily mice an easy task, he was finding it harder and harder to keep his stomach full as the days went on and he was starting to look starved again. Eventually he came to the conclusion that he had to strike out again and look for another source of food. So on that day he caught one last mouse to hold him over and left the den never to return. A pair of yellow eyes watched him from the grasses not too far away. There is much strength in that one. Kings, watch over him and keep him safe. I don't know why, but I think Africa would be the worse off for the loss of him... came the thoughts from the hidden panthress as she watched a dejected Kivuli pad off into the horizon.